The Fourth Sunday in Lent, called Laetare (or “Rejoice”) Sunday, takes its name from the first words of the Gregorian chant introit for this day, “Laetare Jerusalem”. The text, inspired by Isaiah 66: 10-11, translates:
“Rejoice, O Jerusalem; and gather round, all you who love her; rejoice in gladness, after having been in sorrow; exult and be replenished with the consolation flowing from her motherly bosom.”
Laetare Sunday, also known as Refreshment Sunday, Rose Sunday, and Mothering Sunday, gives us a “breather” in the midst of the long penitential season of Lent. Historically on this day, strict Lenten observances were relaxed: fasts could be broken, weddings (prohibited in ancient times during the rest of Lent) could be performed, rose vestments could replace violet ones, flowers could be placed on the altar, and organ music could be played. These same traditions were, and still are to some extent, followed on the third Sunday in Advent, called Gaudete Sunday.
In earlier times, the gospel reading for this fourth Sunday in Lent was always the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fishes, another example of God’s loving provision and nourishment and yet another name for this day was the Sunday of the Five Loaves.
How loving of the Lord and the church to give us this day of refreshment and encouragement in the middle of Lent as we approach the darkness of Holy Week and look forward to the joy of the Resurrection that awaits us!